Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Pigeon River's Anniversary & St. Arnold's Feast Day

If you need a reason to raise your glass on this muggy Tuesday, I’ve got one for you:

July 18th is Pigeon River Brewing Company’s 5th anniversary.

It’s also the feast day of St. Arnold of Metz, the patron saint of brewers (including Nate!).

A sixth century Austrian monk, St. Arnold (or “Arnulf” depending on the translation) encouraged people to drink beer rather than water. In those times, unclean water caused many illnesses. Beer, however, was much safer due to the boiling process killing bacteria and yeast cultures preventing future bacterial contamination. Indeed, the saint likely saved many lives—and brought great cheer—through his advice to “drink beer, not water.” He’s also accredited with saying, “From man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world,” a phrase which has become the unofficial motto of Pigeon River.

Fourteen centuries later, we’re still encouraging people to drink beer, and I’m so grateful to have a patron saint like St. Arnold to make me feel better about this unconventional lifestyle.

The brewery is not just a business; it’s an extension of our family, and has been from the beginning. Five years ago, on the feast of St. Arnold of Metz, not only did we open our doors for business, we also found out we were expecting our first baby. More than the other children, Louisa became a bar-fly baby. In those early days, she spent many Saturdays in a jumper behind the bar, getting to know the regulars. Living on premise, we were always beckoned into the bar to greet customers, and the kids grew accustomed to the sweet smell of mash.

When we moved to our new house, Lou was surprised that it didn’t include a tapline. We don’t frequent the bar as often as we used to, but still one of the kids’ favorite books is “Goodnight Brew,” I occasionally waitress a fish fry, and date nights usually involve the brewery.

So maybe we’re not the typical Christian family, but I’m pretty sure our patron is raising a glass to us from Heaven.

I have a feeling he’s also been intercessing on our behalf. Starting a business can be extremely difficult on a marriage and family, and we’re no exception. At times, building a dream and putting a product into the world left us feeling raw and vulnerable. Grueling hours, last-minute call-ins, and growing faster than our cash flow or schedules could support took their toll. On more than one occasion, I wanted to throw in the towel.

Five years later, I thank God for the grace to persevere, and St. Arnold for his intercession.

As in any worthwhile pursuit, the rewards are proving greater than the struggle. The look on a satisfied customer's face, an award at a beer festival, the ability to provide our employees a livelihood, and our children's grasp of the value of hard work is what keeps us going. Truly,“from man’s sweat and God’s love, beer came into the world."

Raise your glass to St. Arnold and Pigeon River! Prost!

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Why we go to Mass

Sunday preparations start about two hours before mass begins. Making sure the kids are well-fed so they won’t be cranky. Arguing over outfits. Trying to take a shower while they scream at the door (you’d think the faucet spews acid that will dissolve their mother evermore). Debating whether putting the baby down for a morning nap will cure the grouchiness or give him an extra surge of squealing, face-grabbing energy. Bargaining over whether they can bring toys to mass (the answer is always “no,” I assure them. Toys cause more problems than they’re worth).
As we rush out the door, I remind them of our deal: “If you’re good you get a treat, if you’re naughty you get a __________” (They fill-in-the-blank for their dreaded punishment.)

As we walk in (usually among the last arrivals), the kids grab as many hymnals as they can carry and we hastily make way to a pew, bracing ourselves for the 45-minute battle to come.
Years ago we decided not to get stuck in the rut of a “family pew,” but rather to switch it up each week. Better that all parishioners get their turn amongst our pint-sized distractions, we reasoned. If it’s Lou’s choice, we’re right up front where she can see the action. Nate prefers the back, and I usually choose somewhere in the middle, although lately I’ve discovered that the choir loft is a lower-pressure alternative.
Rise to sing the first hymn. Baby Otto grabs for the hymnal, ripping the page in half. Good thing we have those backups.
Someone has to go potty already. Then of course they need drinks of water out of those awesome paper cups, but don’t you dare throw Victor’s in the garbage when he’s done. He’ll need it to stay by the sink in case he has to go potty again.
Make way back into church, but four-year-old Lou appears to be blazing her own trail down the middle of the aisle, forgetting where we’re seated this week (maybe the family pew isn’t such a bad idea…)
We’re onto the second reading, and Otto seems to have his own message to pronounce to the entire congregation. Speaking in tongues at such a young age, what a gift!
Victor has made himself a bed on the kneeler, but Louisa wants it up. A fight ensues. Remind them of the agreement.
Now we’re onto the homily, and I nervously glance at Nate, anticipating his complaints that he “didn’t get anything” out of today’s service. What a former-protestant thing to say! As if the sermon is why we’re here.
Lou and Vic are fighting again over one of the fifty books on the pew. Issue the second reminder of our agreement.
What’s that smell? It sure isn’t incense emanating from Otto’s diaper…
At some point a seed of doubt sprouts and I wonder why the hell we bother coming.
No time to water that seed, though, because now we’re rising for the Lord’s Prayer and I gently nudge Lou to join us. She proudly recites the prayer, and my heart swells when I realize that two-year-old Victor is stumbling along with us. 
As we turn to give the sign of peace, a beaming parishioner clasps each of their little hands and whispers, “What a beautiful family. Thanks for coming.”
Kneeling for consecration I take a moment to slow my breathing, attempting to ignore the six hands grabbing at me and instead make myself present, not just here in church, but here at Calvary. At the re-presentation of Christ’s sacrifice.
I do my best to offer myself as a living sacrifice, discerning whether I’m in a state of grace to partake in the sacrificial meal. I’ll be damned if I’m going to take Eucharist outside a state of grace…well, maybe not damned but I would be taking judgement upon myself, and heaven knows I don’t need that.
Lord, I am not worthy that you should enter under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed.
Waiting in the communion line, the kids are more compliant than they’ve been all morning. Wide-eyed and eager, even they seem aware that we are approaching the true presence of Christ.
Finally, I receive Him, the physical embodiment of grace. Grace flows through every cell in my body, renewing my spirit. For a moment there are no distractions or demands. Just me and Jesus. When I open my eyes, grace continues flowing. I look at my children, once burdensome energy-suckers, and see their pure hearts. The meager choir sounds like heavenly bands of angels rejoicing. His head bowed in prayer, my husband no longer looks like a reluctant participant, but like the saint he’s called to be. And I myself, instead of feeling like an overwhelmed, harried woman who probably just should’ve stayed home, feel like a precious child of God. 
This is why we come. Week after week, year after year. Through teething and tantrums, hangovers and hesitance. We may not always hear the sermons, but we come for more than sermons. It may not be the most rousing service, but we come for more than entertainment. The kids may not always practice reverence, but we come for more than obedience training. 
We come for the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. For the chance to participate in the eternal sacrifice, renew the covenant of salvation, and get grace-filled spiritual food for this crazy journey that we call life.
Lord knows, we need it.

Friday, May 26, 2017

If I could give another Graduation Speech

Today the local seniors had the opportunity to walk through the halls of the elementary school. What a charming way for the seniors to look back on their beginnings while the youngsters form impressions of poised high schoolers. It has me reflecting on graduation, that edge-of-the-diving-board moment before our youth jump into “real life.”

I’ve also been reflecting on the opportunities I’ve had to speak at my high school and college graduations and what I would say if I could do it all over again.

In both instances, I targeted my speech towards bolstering self-confidence, feeling that I was battling a mix of millennial apathy, small-town feelings of insignificance (in the case of my 27-student graduating class), and insecurity about the job market (in the case of my college graduation, which fell during the recession).

The theme of my high school speech was the Butterfly Effect, drawing parallels between a butterfly’s flap causing a hurricane across the world and our seemingly small decisions affecting the trajectory of our lives and those around us. The day of graduation, I had grabbed a make-shift butterfly net of pantyhose to catch butterflies to release at the end of my speech, envisioning a transcendental flourish to the cap off my speech. Unfortunately, biology was not my strongest subject, and I collected moths instead of butterflies, which bolted right to the lights for an ominous metaphor. (In hindsight, there might have been another message in the foiled plan: Don’t always trust your instincts. If you’re not willing to change course, you might end up zapped.)

My college graduation speech (begins at 1:07) was titled “Legendary,” and in an attempt to mitigate the pressures of the shitty economy and high internal expectations, I reminded my classmates that we have the advantages of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. In a final act of rebellion, I also inserted 1.) a dirty joke, 2.) a reference to GOD, and 3.) a plug for Pigeon River Brewing Company (which was then only a dream). “We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, and fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing it small does not serve the world. Use your experiences to draw the strength to stand fearlessly on top of the giant and not back down from the legend that is within yourself.”

Those speeches have been special moments to bookend my education, and in both instances as much as I was aiming to motivate my classmates, I was also fighting against my own insecurity in my life’s path. Graduation can be inspiring, but it can also be terrifying, the idea that this is the moment in which you must choose the path for The. Rest. Of. Your. Life. …Shit.

If I could do it all over again, I’d have three messages to pass along to them (and myself):
1. Relax. Yes, this is a Big Moment. But there will be so many more Big Moments. If you miss the mark this time, you’ll have another chance. In the meantime, life is lived in between the Big Moments.

2. Stop obsessing about finding your “passion,” and start looking for your “calling.” Millennials get a bad rap for being narcissistic “snowflakes,” but much of this is brought on by well-meaning adults urging them to continuously look inward to “discover their passions.” What psychologists are now realizing is that a fulfilling career has less to do with the work being pleasurable and more to do with it being meaningful. Graduates need to shift their focus outside of themselves to recognize the needs of the world around them. In the words of Aristotle, “'Where your talents and the needs of the world cross; there lies your vocation.”

3. Learn contentment through love. In the economy of a life-well-lived, the unit of measurement is not money, power, achievement, or fleeting pleasure. It's love. Love of friends and family. Love of life's beauty. Love of God. Go ahead and shoot for the moon, but if you miss, you're not going to land among the stars. (mostly because the stars are much farther away from the moon, and hopefully anyone who's completed over a decade of education would know that!) You will, however, land among your friends, family, and God. Make sure you cultivate those relationships well so it'll be a soft landing.

A couple weeks ago I bought four lilac shrubs. They’re just little guys right now, but I made the comment to Nate that since they're a later-blooming hybrid, they’ll be perfect by the time we host the kids’ graduation parties. Now that’s thinking ahead.
My kids haven’t even started school yet, and so far their future plans are to build an intergenerational compound of houses so we can all be together forever (oh, my heart!). But someday, they will be standing at the edge of the diving board, and they'll be able to read mom's ramblings from once-upon-a-time. Now that’s thinking ahead.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Help! I am a Rummage Sale Junkie! (On Battling Materialism)

It's rummage season! The combination of my small-town sensibility, cheapness, and love for old shit make me a rummage sale addict. Wingback chairs are my crack.

 I’m still taking flak from last year’s summer-long bender when I bought a total of seven chairs, an ottoman, and a sofa. I soon realized that a.) when it comes to re-uholstery, I ain’t got skillz, b.) Victorian-era furniture is designed to look nice and keep clothes from wrinkling, not for comfort, and c.) my family and friends seem to appreciate comfort more than un-wrinkly clothes. Long story short, after a few re-arrangements, I ended up selling or gifting all but two of the chairs, which are now sadly sitting upstairs awaiting me to finish my first attempt at reupholstering.

So when this year’s city-wide rummage rolled around, I tried to stay on the wagon. I targeted the one sale where I knew I could purchase second-hand wardrobes for all of my kids. I didn’t even highlight the ads. Then my main dealer met up with me at church (of all places!) and let me know that she had some stuff that had my name all over it…

I’m going to put it right here on the record that it was not me, but my junkie husband who purchased nine chairs, a settee, and a stool (ok, the stool was me). That’s right; he surpassed my previous seating capacity record! ...and we might start a chair museum.

This chesterfield-style settee and chair are my favorite buys. They’ll find a home in our entry (or “foyer” if we’re feeling fancy). The seats will need re-upholstery, but I’m thinking the backs are ok. The holes in the leather seats reveal that they’re stuffed with straw. Cool!

These parlor chairs will also need re-upholstery. Nate wants to keep the salmonish-gold color, but I’d prefer black, green, or gray. Ticking stripe? Floral? Help us decide!

These babies have the same wood pattern as the others, but with arms, and one is a rocker. They appear to have been re-upholstered in 1970’s style polyester, so we’ll have them done the same as the others…seriously, help us decide!

These kitchen chairs are a bit sturdier and more our style than our current ones which we’ve been borrowing from my grandma. Nate wants to refinish them (sand, stain, varnish), but I think we should just give them a coat of black chalk paint to match the legs of our kitchen table and bench….we seem to have a pattern of disagreement here! (oh yeah, the kids got in on the action, too, with a kid chair. Start ‘em young!)

This stool will help little-ol’-me reach high things in the kitchen. And even though I’m not Norwegian, I sure love rosemaling!

I was just making an innocent trip to the post office when this trunk tempted me to another sale…what can I say, I can’t stop chasing that high...Nate’s not crazy about a trunk as a coffee table, but I think it’s so cool.

So there you have it. My name is Kayla, and I am an addict.

Obviously, I jest. I know that this strange “addiction” doesn’t really have a hold on my brain’s neurotransmitters, but purchasing does give a rush of dopamine, and that shit is dope! Buying second-hand can be financially, environmentally, and even spiritually savvy, but it can also be a gateway drug. After this weekend’s bender, I have to consciously stop myself from letting a few purchases lead me into the dark, dark underbelly of materialism. If wingbacks are my crack, Pinterest is my porn, and now I find myself jonesing for a leather chesterfield, a “writer’s” chair, wallpaper (yes, I’m serious), and a garage. It’s so easy for a “quick hit” to turn into a full-blown obsession.

I’ve learned a few strategies to get myself back on the wagon:
1. Turn Coveting into Gratitude

Rather than thinking about all of the things I would love to change about my home, I need to call to mind my favorite things about it (which incidentally don’t have to do with the house itself): the people who live here and gorgeous countryside surrounding us.
2. Find other Dope

What makes vices like materialism, substance abuse, and overeating so tempting? Dopamine. Thankfully, there are other ways to give our brains that rush without self-destructing. Crossing items off our to-do list, achieving flow in our work, exercise, goal pursuing, music, meditation, hugs, giving, and certain healthy foods are all virtuous ways to get high.
3. Die to Self (Transcend Desire)

The ultimate goal of a Christian is sanctification, to completely die to self so Christ can fully live through us. Buddhists would call this transcendence of desire enlightenment (which seems like a more positive term that better embodies the joy of self-denial, but who am I to question the Holy Spirit's and subsequent translator's choices of terminology...). Even mainstream secularists, through trends such as minimalism and mindfulness, have begun to embrace the ideal of eliminating distractions and focusing on what's important. I happen to believe that God’s grace is the only way to truly transcend desire, but there are certainly different ways of receiving that grace (prayer, fasting, almsgiving, sacraments, etc.).

So, now that I’ve regained control over my impulses, realized how f-ing weak I would be to fight a real addiction, and reclaimed the joy of the pure life, I can freely ask you: What do you think of our rummage purchases? Can you help us solve our differences of opinion on some of the items?


Thursday, April 27, 2017

Pope Francis Gave a TED Talk!

Anyone in my “inner-circle” knows that I’ve been crazy for TED Talks lately. (For those of you who’ve been living under a rock, TED is a non-profit devoted to spreading ideas on topics of science, business, global ideas, and more through 18-minute-or-less talks. Google it.)  I can queue up some random topics I’m interested in and listen throughout my workday. Over the course of a few hours every day for the last few weeks, I’ve learned a lot. Then in the company of my dear family and friends I can turn any conversation towards the knowledge I've gleaned like an unsolicited book report. Oh yeah, I’m a joy to be around…

So imagine my surprise to found out that His Holiness Pope Francis—the pontificate, successor of Saint Peter, hipster hero—has recorded a surprise TED Talk! Of course I keyed up the webpage right away, and was quickly reminded that I don’t speak Italian! Thankfully, there is an English translation to satisfy my curiosity.
By Zebra48bo - Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=44922518

Pope Francis’s talk was pre-recorded in the Vatican for a TED conference which is currently taking place in Vancouver. In viewing the trailer for the current conference, my interest was also piqued by another prominent speaker: Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Interestingly, the two religious leaders had very similar takes on the conference's theme: “The Future You.”

I have to imagine both leaders fantasizing about grabbing the coordinators by their shoulders and shaking them to their senses. Don’t call it “The Future You!”  We need the world to think about the future Us!

In fact, the title of the conference seems to play right into the hand of Rabbi Sacks, who suggested that if the anthropologists of the future look back on our present world, they would conclude that we worship the self. “When we have too much of the ‘I’ and not enough of the ‘we,’ we find ourselves vulnerable, fearful and alone,” Sacks said.

Similarly, in his first point Pope Francis outlines his premise that “none of us is an island.”

In his second point, he envisions a brighter future: “How wonderful would it be, while we discover faraway planets, to rediscover the needs of the brothers and sisters orbiting around us.” Solidarity is the only cure for our current “culture of waste,” which he says, “doesn't concern only food and goods but, first and foremost, the people who are cast aside by our techno-economic systems which, without even realizing it, are now putting products at their core, instead of people.”

He drives the point home by telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, through which Jesus answered the question, “Who is our neighbor?” Everyone. Not just those with similar political or religious views. Not just those within our borders. Not just those who are like us. Everyone.

How many of us are too consumed with our own road, be it money, achievement, or pleasure, to even notice the suffering person in the ditch? Or have we become too desensitized to care?

The pope’s third point is a call-to-action to start a “revolution of tenderness.” He warns the powerful people in the audience of the need to stoop down to another’s level through humility: “…the more powerful you are, the more your actions will have an impact on people, the more responsible you are to act humbly. If you don’t, your power will ruin you, and you will ruin the other.”

Rabbi Sacks closes his talk with similar inclusiveness: “Do a search-and-replace operation on the text of your mind. Wherever you encounter the word ‘self,’ substitute the word ‘other.’ Instead of self-help, other-help. Instead of self-esteem, other-esteem. We can face any future without fear so long as we know that we won’t face it alone.”

I encourage you to check out the full transcript of Pope Francis’s talk (Rabbi Sacks’s full talk won’t be available for a few more weeks), and share it with a young person you know. Graduation season is fast approaching. Just imagine if our graduates faced the future with a “we” mentality instead of a "me" mentality.  Instead of being consumed by finding a career to fulfill their personal passions, they could create a future that matches their abilities with the pressing needs of the world. It’s not “The Future of You,” or “The Future of Me.” It’s “The Future of Us.”

Monday, April 24, 2017


What a glorious weekend! Everywhere I looked was inspiration, and I had so many thoughts I wanted to write about (ie: how a lot of climate-change deniers probably have a smaller carbon footprint than academic elitists, a former teacher’s unsurprising unaccredited “degree” prompting me to *shrug*, first communion as Catholic cultural initiation, the irony of modern psychology “discovering” ancient wisdom), but then I brushed those ideas out of the way like a stray hair in my face, and ran outside where life awaited!

::The smells:: grilled food, fresh cut lawn, freshly spread manure, poopy diapers (can’t get away from that one!)

::The sounds:: tractors and lawn mowers roaring, children laughing, a Cajun swing band, Nate’s Youtube mix, my favorite hymn, creaky swings, the sweetest voice saying, “God loves it when you smile, Mom.”

::The tastes:: an impromptu cook-out that got kind of fancy, taco brats from Harper’s Meats, French saison from Lion’s Tail, the grace-filled precious blood and body of our Lord

::The beauty:: Marion Pond transforming from deep blue to the golden glaze of sunset, my two boys snug in the bike trailer, unexpected trilliums and the promise of tulips, the lace of a First Communion veil, flutter sleeves and red lipstick, bubbles dancing around the smiling faces of loved ones

::All. The. Feels.:: feet clipping into pedals for the first ride of the season, the breeze on my face, pudgy hands attacking during mass, the weight of multiple little bodies on my lap, sand sifting through my fingers, heart swell

I wish I could bottle up the collective joy of spring just to take a wiff of it come January. Alas; that’s not the rhythm of life! The next best thing? I’ll do my best to revel in the moments as they come and then post my reflections to read when I need to feel the sun on my face again.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A New Covenant Twist for Easter Baskets

I planned to use this post to tell you about an alternative Easter basket idea I had, but first....I just got back from Holy Thursday Mass, and I must say that I've never been so inspired at mass as I was to see a priest moved to tears during consecration for love of Christ present in the Eucharist. What a beautiful testament of faith! I thank the Lord for the grace to believe in the True Presence, and I'll be sure to bring tissues to Good Friday service tomorrow when we're invited to "die with Christ."  Sometimes I'm so focused on forming my children's spirituality during the holidays that I am taken aback when my own faith is stirred.

Moving on...

If you read this post about Santa Claus, it’s probably not surprising that I have similar mixed feelings about the Easter Bunny. In general, I think the stealthy fluffball distracts from the true meaning of Easter. I want my children to form memories of Easter being a sacred time…yet I don’t want to deprive them of all the sweet treats that make the holiday fun for kids.  

So, I’ve come up with a compromise for our family, and I thought I’d pass it along in case any of you out there have the same dilemma.

First of all, we’ll do our best to pack our Holy Week with meaning by attending Triduim services. Holy Week is a rich sensory experience for Catholics with sorrowful hymns, fragrance of incense, sweetness of the Eucharist, cold of the crucifix, and finally the visual splendor of the Easter candle slowly spreading light throughout the congregation. It's a lot to unpack, but we'll do our best to explain the gospels and traditions in kid-friendly terms.
Easter Vigil-St. Mary's, Holliston by Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston's photostream (2011) via Flickr, CC https://flic.kr/p/9B4zA2
I also planned this new activity to drive the point home:

Part 1: Good Friday or Holy Saturday
Supplies: Rocks, Backpack, Blindfold
Activity: Explain that the rocks represent our sins, then fill the backpacks with them. Blindfold the children and then lead them on a walk (or obstacle course, if you're daring) while they wear the rock-filled backpacks.
Lesson: This is what it would be like to try to get to Heaven without Jesus. Our sins would weigh us down and we wouldn’t be able to see the way.
Then have the children put the rocks in their Easter baskets.

Part 2: Easter Sunday
Supplies: Easter basket, eggs, peeps, candy cane, chocolate cross, chocolate coins, fruit, mini flashlight, grape juice & crackers, book about a saint, kite (
or modify these options with your own Easter favorites!)
Activity: Replace the rocks with Easter goodies.
Lesson: Help the children read this explanation of their Easter treats:

Christ has died to take away our Image result for clipart rock(sins), but He has risen to give us Image result for clipart easter egg Image result for clipart peep chick (new life)!

He is ourImage result for clipart candy cane (shepherd) leading us on a new path to heaven.

We must take up our Image result for cross clipart (cross) and follow Him.

We will be selfless on earth so we can store up Image result for chocolate coins clipart (treasure) in heaven.

By loving God and each other, we will bear Image result for fruit clipart (fruit) for His Kingdom.

He has set up His Church to help Image result for clipart flash light(light) the way.

He has given Himself to us in the Image result for clipart eucharist (Eucharist) as food for the journey.

We can learn from the Image result for clipart saint (saints) who have come before us.

Keep following Him, and Christ will Image result for clipart kite(raise) you up, too! 

I wish I had the time and motivation to do these kinds of activities more often, but I’m hoping this one turns into a memorable tradition that we can expand upon as the kids mature. What Easter traditions do your family observe?